Thomas Jefferson On The Limits Of Property Rights

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"Thomas Jefferson On The Limits Of Property Rights"

Thomas Jefferson is not my favorite among the founding fathers, but this 1785 letter to James Madison quoted by Daniel Kuehn is another good example of the non-libertarianism of classical liberalism:

Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labour and live on. If, for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be furnished to those excluded from the appropriation. If we do not the fundamental right to labour the earth returns to the unemployed. It is too soon yet in our country to say that every man who cannot find employment but who can find uncultivated land, shall be at liberty to cultivate it, paying a moderate rent. But it is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without a little portion of land. The small landholders are the most precious part of a state.

As with John Locke you see this concern about concentrated appropriation of finite resources. In practical terms, Jefferson and other leaders of the early Republic were able to sidestep inequality within the white community by redistributing land from Native Americans to white people.

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